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Published July 1, 2012 | Published
Journal Article Open

Mid-infrared Selection of Active Galactic Nuclei with the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer. I. Characterizing WISE-selected Active Galactic Nuclei in COSMOS


The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is an extremely capable and efficient black hole finder. We present a simple mid-infrared color criterion, W1 – W2 ≥ 0.8 (i.e., [3.4]–[4.6] ≥0.8, Vega), which identifies 61.9 ± 5.4 active galactic nucleus (AGN) candidates per deg^2 to a depth of W2 ~ 15.0. This implies a much larger census of luminous AGNs than found by typical wide-area surveys, attributable to the fact that mid-infrared selection identifies both unobscured (type 1) and obscured (type 2) AGNs. Optical and soft X-ray surveys alone are highly biased toward only unobscured AGNs, while this simple WISE selection likely identifies even heavily obscured, Compton-thick AGNs. Using deep, public data in the COSMOS field, we explore the properties of WISE-selected AGN candidates. At the mid-infrared depth considered, 160 μJy at 4.6 μm, this simple criterion identifies 78% of Spitzer mid-infrared AGN candidates according to the criteria of Stern et al. and the reliability is 95%. We explore the demographics, multiwavelength properties and redshift distribution of WISE-selected AGN candidates in the COSMOS field.

Additional Information

© 2012 The American Astronomical Society. Received 2011 November 2, accepted for publication 2012 April 24. Published 2012 June 12. We gratefully acknowledge the anonymous referee for helpful comments that have made the paper both clearer and stronger. We also thank P. Capak for providing two unpublished redshifts obtained with DEIMOS. This publication makes use of data products from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, which is a joint project of the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/California Institute of Technology, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. We gratefully acknowledge the COSMOS survey and are thankful for the extensive and high quality data products that they have publicly released. This publication makes use of data obtained at the Keck Observatory. The authors wish to recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that the summit of Mauna Kea has always had within the indigenous Hawaiian community; we are most fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain. SDSS is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Participating Institutions, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Japanese Monbukagakusho, the Max Planck Society, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. This research has made use of the NASA/IPAC Infrared Science Archive (IRSA), which is operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This work is based in part on observations made with the Spitzer Space Telescope, which is operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/California Institute of Technology, under a contract with NASA. This work is also based in part on observations made with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, obtained at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under NASA contract NAS 5-26555. R.J.A. is supported by an appointment to the NASA Postdoctoral Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, administered by Oak Ridge Associated Universities through a contract with NASA.

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